Background: While it may appear that university leaders’ public advocacy is somewhat punctuated in today’s political environment, campuses have long been symbolic epicenters of civic discourse about contentious social issues in the United States. Scholarly discourse about university leaders’ advocacy has centered on when or how leaders have chosen to use it to facilitate productive interactions with political leaders and other strategic constituencies. Largely absent from these discussions is evidence detailing whether senior campus leaders’ public advocacy has any discernable effects on the campus climate and educational environment.
Research Question: In this analysis, we ask: Does public and vocal advocacy for educational values by senior campus leaders translate into cultivating a campus climate that corresponds to the values and messages being communicated in the leaders’ rhetoric? What, if any, educational impact results from campus leaders’ public advocacy?
Research Design: The quantitative data for this analysis come from the Personal and Social Responsibility Inventory (PSRI) that was developed through the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U) Core Commitments initiative. This campus climate survey consists of two parallel and largely parsimonious forms—one for students and one for professionals (faculty, instructors, and student and academic affairs administrators). Data were gathered in 2007. The sample consists of 10,693 responses, three-fourths of which were from students and the remaining one-fourth from professionals. We used OLS regression to generate a blocked model examining the effects of exposure to senior leaders’ public advocacy for particular educational values on the campus community’s perception of the climate.
Findings/Results: Senior campus leaders’ public advocacy for educational values (citizenship, valuing diverse perspectives, moral and ethical conduct, and academic effort) operated as a positive resource for improving the campus climate for diversity. Frequent exposure to leaders’ advocacy for valuing diverse perspectives generated the largest effects on the extent to which the educational climate is viewed as one where faculty teach about the importance of considering diverse views, students are respectful when discussing controversial issues, and campus community members feel safe in holding unpopular positions on campus. Findings also revealed that the extent to which all campus community members felt safe to hold unpopular positions on campus declined when there was greater racial homogeneity among students, academic employees, and service and support employees.
Conclusions/Recommendations: When campus community members experienced sustained and frequent exposure to administrative leaders who publicly discussed educational values, a campus can expect to experience positive gains in aspects of the psychological, behavioral, and structural dimensions of the campus climate for diversity. This study also suggests that in order to create an environment where diverse discourse is more likely, campuses need to be attentive to the demographic composition across the entire organization, therefore seeking ways to cultivate compositional racial diversity among all members—students, academic employees, and service and support employees.